Culture To Go

PRINTED MATTER

Jeff Koyen

Crank

self-published zine

Published two or three times a year since 1994 by the nasty-tempered Jeff "Spreading my opinions like a Singapore whore spreads AIDS" Koyen, Crank mixes the PC-baiting iconoclasm of a vile hatezine like ANSWER ME! (minus its racism and sexism) with the sophisticated savoir-faire of a mid-1960s men's magazine. A schizophrenic combination, to be sure; but it's an organic one, since Koyen is nothing if not sincere in his likes and dislikes.

Crank is an attractive, professionally designed publication that nevertheless reaches into the low-budget zinester's bag of tricks for a chuckle. There's the old reprinting-letters-out-of-context trick (hate notes from former roommates, poems solicited and then mercilessly mocked, threatening missives from Rush Limbaugh's attorneys), and detailed features on trepanation or turning road-kill raccoons into bombs. Such items may be sophomoric, but Koyen is careful to distance Crank from the types of zines in which you'd usually find such things. He rails with a mixture of penetrating social observation and pure bile against "trendy misanthropes" whose hatred of mankind is not as all-consuming as his own "teenage misfit revisionism" ("I was never strange, angry, queer, or misunderstood in high school," he confesses); and threatens to bash in the skulls of trust-fund anarchists, suburban Philadelphia scenesters (he eventually moved to New York, where he now writes a column for the New York Press), or yuppies who don't tip bartenders.

Perhaps Crank's internal logic is best summed up by the self-promoting Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap spoof in issue #4, which reads, in part, "If every one issue of Crank unites all mankind, it will be by omitting and eliminating all irrelevancies & redundancies & ridiculously bad record reviews & adolescent rants, added unto the Faith in One-Crank-Almighty, all-embracing, ever-evolving, ever-recreating Eternal Crank, & BY ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE!" To which I can only add, Amen. ($3 from Jeff Koyen, P.O. Box 757, Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009; crank@inch.com) (Joshua Glenn)

Tony Walsh

He Is Just A Rat

Exclaim! Brand Comics

Tired of pansy-ass heroes, elaborate panels of chronologically challenged images parading toward an inevitable Armageddon, and angst-ridden "adult" comics in which post-adolescent screwballs obsess on their inability to talk to women? He Is Just A Rat is the perfect cure for comic doldrums. But the thing is, he's not just a rat. He's a virulent, ax-wielding, foul-mouthed reincarnation of every bad-attitude rodent that ever had its neck snapped in a trap. The Rat lives in a generic city populated by roundish, grinning people with hamster ears. He works (occasionally) at the Nine-One-One convenience store, drinks a lot of beer and beats up the henchmen of a hapless international playboy sap, Kaspar D. Whitey.

But that's just the big picture. What really matters is the snarl of the Rat's snout as he slams the door on someone's face, his eyes squeezing shut as he takes a shit on the shoe of a menacing punk, the curl of his whiskers as he sits down to a bowl of Fruit Bugs and cyanide. Yeah, it's the little things make a great comic, and Tony Walsh pays attention to the details that take The Rat skittering past the boundaries of bad taste straight into the freak show of urban culture. Moreover, in true comic tradition, Walsh's occasionally intersecting side-plot is just as hilarious and requires even fewer brain cells to understand: Circus side-show leader Scrunky La Bong is after the Rat's pal, the good-natured Rotten Chicken Lips, who hides on the Island of Fearfulness amidst a family of walking gila monsters.

Hilarious, desperate, and totally without guile, The Rat is just rat enough to know he is just a rat and still not care. He's an antihero every bit as foul as you, but without your looks. I got the gift package for my brother the lawyer. Now he spends his days at the firm poring over the first three issues, fingering the Rat T-shirt he wears under his suit. Go get 'em Rat, he's thinking as he listens politely to the details of another craven lawsuit. ($2.75 from 7B Pleasant Blvd, #966, Toronto, Ontario, M4T 1K2 Canada; ian@ shmooze.net) (Hal Niedzviecki)

Camden Joy

The Lost Manifestoes Of Camden Joy/
The Greatest Record Album Ever Told/
The Greatest Record Album Singer That Ever Was

Rag & Bone Shop/Tract Home Publications

For me, the best arts writing is always a desperate and failed attempt to channel deeply personal experience. It fails not just because that experience is so subjective (you present to your lover the Greatest Band in the World, the lover is unmoved, you realize we are all very alone), but also because the writing is not the art itself, and can never move an audience in exactly that way (writing about music is like dancing about architecture, etc.).

Desperate, failed, and beautiful comes the work of Camden Joy. Like the best arts writing, it isn't much concerned with whether you go out and buy the commodity (though you may be moved to), or in describing its component parts. Rather it seeks to create its own experience, informed by that moment of psychic blossoming that happens when great art hits its mark. In praising Frank O'Hara, Frank Black, Ronnie Spector, Son Volt, Al Green, Pavement, pornography, and the Mekons, or decrying Hollywood and other artistic betrayers (who will remain nameless here), Joy sings across his pages, articulate and occasionally incomprehensible. Pop culture obsessives will hear echoes of all sorts in Joy's voice--ecstatic art seraphs Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg, Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs--not to mention the wild cadences of crank religious missives. It's quite an earful.

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